Winter in Texas is unpredictable. Today, it’s sunny and in the 40’s. This past Tuesday, it was 12 degrees at noon with a wind chill that never left the single digits. Today is a good day for taking a walk. But there are days when even Chicago transplants such as myself want nothing more than to curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a cozy mystery novel.
And the next time I find myself facing a stretch of bad weather, I know which shelf in my bookshelf to look to.
While looking for novels to which I can compare Where the Clouds Catch Fire in my query letters to literary agents, I stumbled upon a historical mystery series by Ellis Peters called the Cadfael Chronicles. It was the perfect comparison. Medieval setting? Check. Main characters live in a monastery? Check. Depiction of raids on monasteries? In the case of Dead Man’s Ransom, yes.
The series centers around Brother Cadfael, a crusader turned herbalist monk who uses his medical skills to help solve mysteries. He’s not alone. He frequently teams up with the clergy, commoners, and courting couples of twelfth-century England and Wales to help solve murders. And let’s not forget the memorable inhabitants of his own home, the Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul at Shrewsbury. The monastery houses everyone from snarky introvert Brother Mark to the elderly Welsh Brother Rhys to Brother Jerome, the clerk who tries so hard to be holy he shudders at the mere mention of a woman’s undergarment.
The historical accuracy of the series amazes me. The Abbey of St. Peter and St. Paul is a real abbey. Father Heribert was really the abbot, Prior Robert was really a prior (who took over as abbot in 1148), and the plot of the entire first book was based on historical events. Even the towns mentioned as Cadfael and his companions travel to Gwytherin, Wales, to retrieve the relics of a saint, were actual towns.
All that is well and good. Information can be gathered from anywhere today. But what amazes me most about this series is that the first book, A Morbid Taste for Bones, was first published in 1977. Computers were mostly restricted to business use until the 1990’s. This means that most, if not all, of the information Ellis Peters used in this series was found unaided by the internet.
To me, the Cadfael Chronicles lack nothing. The mystery elements are wonderful, the prose is beautiful, and there’s just enough humor and romance to keep things from being overly suspenseful. Even the titles are perfect. They range from the suspenseful (A Morbid Taste for Bones; One Corpse Too Many) to the religious (The Leper of St. Guiles; The Confession of Brother Haluin) to the beautifully poetic (The Rose Rent; The Sanctuary Sparrow).
I hope to learn many things from Ellis Peters. I love the command of vocabulary, the thorough knowledge of subject matter, the perfect plotting, and the deftness of choosing pen names. Her real name was Edith Mary Pargeter.
What’s your favorite mystery series? Have you ever read a book published before 1980? If so, what was it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below! God bless you, dear readers, and don’t forget to Like us on Facebook!
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.